How Robotic Process Automation can improve your Food & Agriculture business processes

Improving and developing your company using new tech has never been more on trend. Certainly, in Food & Agriculture – where margins are lower than low and market changes happen in the blink of an eye – it can give you the competitive edge you need. In this blog, I will unravel a very promising upcoming technology and its benefits: Robotic Process Automation. RPA in short, is becoming a very popular tool of automation. Why? Because it not only reduces labor, but it can also make your job more efficient by automating daily processes and reducing inaccuracies such as poor or insufficient data. RPA solutions consist mostly out of Application Programming Interfaces, in short API. Instead of searching and copy-pasting, automated programs can do those irritating repetitive jobs for you. It sounds like the solution everyone is waiting for, right? Well, in this blog I will elaborate on the working of RPA and will tell you about its potential for the Food & Agriculture industry. Ready to discover how you can improve your data quality, while simultaneously making your job more relaxing? Read on!

RPA and APIs: What is the deal?

First things first. What are APIs and how do they work? APIs are little programs that communicate with each other. For instance, instead of typing the time/date of your harvest, you can just retrieve it from the database. This process has two APIs. API A wants to know the time/date and sends a request to API B that can find it for you. API A can only send and receive data, it does not know how API B operates. API B retrieves the data from the database and sends the requested data. The APIs are programmable to your desire and can perform any action you wish for. The retrieved data by API B can trigger artificial intelligence, if coded, in order to validate the requested data and to ensure the data quality. This gives the retrieved data an advantage, because it does not have to be double checked.

How can bots help your business?

APIs are exciting, but I can hear you thinking. ‘What are the advantages for my business? How can it add value to my Food & Agriculture supply chain?’. The Food & Agriculture industry has, arguably, one of the most dynamic and complex chains. Reaction time, consistency, and accuracy in your processes is vital to stay competitive. Not to mention adhering to the increasingly strict traceability demands or coping with the growing demands of suppliers and end-customers. Automating repetitive tasks that concern filling in compliancy paperwork, creating the fastest picking routes in your warehouse based on a certain set of data, correcting data in the system after a recall: these are all time savers that can be implemented in your chain with RPA.

Imagine your employees conducting certain tasks during the day. The bot observes these tasks, copies these tasks and executes when necessary. Think about all the time you would save if robots did the work. To be more precise: Bots are able to copy-paste, scrape web data, make calculations, open and move files, parse emails, log into programs, connect to APIs, and extract unstructured data.

There is a catch, however. RPA is solely intended for tasks that are always the same, meaning that the process that you want to automate is always identical. This is mandatory, otherwise it is impossible to code the API. The time that was spent on repetitive tasks – that are often error prone as well when done manually – can now be used for meaningful tasks. Or just enjoying an extra cup of coffee.

The benefits of RPA

I already mentioned a few benefits of RPA for the Food & Agriculture industry. From saving time to eliminating boring manual repetitive tasks for your colleagues. But wait, there’s more! And, I am sure there are even more advantages, but here’s a list of benefits that RPA brings to your business processes.

  • Logs

Every step the RPA takes is logged, if something does not add up or is incorrect, it is easy to locate. If the RPA checks the data, it can point out that the data is incorrect. This makes it easier to spot poor or insufficient data within your system.

  • 24/7 virtual employee

The RPA robot can work 24 hours per day, 365 days a year. The robot can prepare, do and finish work at any given time with a consistent work rate, whilst a human can only do that for 8 hours for five days a week with an inconsistent work rate.

  • No physical workspace needed

The RPA robot does not need a place to sit and work, the robot does not need the facilities that humans need, to perform the same job.

  • Easily implementable

Implementing RPA is not hard. RPA can be implemented within any current IT infrastructure. The coding for the APIs is not complicated, they are coded using the XML-format or JSON-format. Implementing RPA is a matter of weeks.

  • Relieve you and your employees

Stressful and repetitive manual tasks you want to get rid of? These tasks become obsolete once RPA is implemented. Doing recurring steps and repeating these can be stressful and become tiring, making the job excruciating. RPA will evaporate the tedious and repetitive tasks.

  • Productivity

RPA bots can recreate the filing and follow the same workflow processing as an employee. The bot can handle filing standardized forms or claims while an employee can work more productively with the help of an RPA bot.

  • Improved accuracy

When extracting data, the RPA bot uses this data to fulfill the request from the API. This data is 100% accurate. This accuracy is necessary in strict industries such as Food & Agriculture, Finance and Life Sciences, that follow strict compliance. The accuracy RPA provides, also helps the Order-to-Cash flow and Procure-to-Pay flow. The work rate and accuracy of the bot are no match for any employee.

  • Cost saving

RPA improves productivity and accuracy; this results in lower costs. However, there is an investment to be made in order to implement RPA. Luckily the implementation is relatively easy and not very time consuming. This makes the return of investment very short. Not only does RPA save time in the short term, in the long term it can prevent repetitive strain injuries for the employees.

Stay relevant in Food & Agriculture with RPA

In conclusion, RPA is a new and popular tool to automate a certain process within your Food & Agriculture supply chain. It makes your company more flexible and gives employees more time to do work that is meaningful and fulfilling. RPA helps the employee on a daily base whilst reducing costs. To top it off, RPA is relatively easy to implement and has a short ROI. Working with RPA bots give you a higher productivity and accuracy that results into more free time, time that you can use to read our next blog!

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Jason Jokhoe
Jason Jokhoe
SAP Consultant

I am a SAP Consultant at NTT DATA Business Solutions in the Benelux. Before I became a consultant I finished my bachelor's degree in Industrial Engineering and Management at Avans in 2020 and I was active within production environments, focusing on engineering and improvement. These experiences help me in my role as a consultant. At NTT DATA Business Solutions I mainly work with Master Data and focus on EWM.

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